New Zealand has signed and ratified several international Conventions that address equality for women at work and require government action against discrimination.
Two specifically require action to ensure equal pay for women for work of equal value to men's: the Convention on Equal Remuneration and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This principle of equality and freedom from discrimination has its origins in the Treaty of Versailles after World War 1, as does the International Labour Organisation (ILO) established after World War 2).
ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration was signed in 1951. It calls on member governments to ensure application of 'the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value' through 'objective appraisal of jobs'. This was followed in 1958 by the broader ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) on the basis of sex, race, colour, religion, political opinion, nationality or social origin, and promotes equal employment opportunity. In 1998 the ILO declared ILO 100 together with ILO 111 to be one of its Four Fundamental Rights at Work.
New Zealand finally ratified ILO 100 and ILO 111 in 1983. As the Minister of Labour told Parliament at the time, the Equal Pay Acts, plus equal minimum wage and benefit rates for women, meant we were meeting our international obligations under these Conventions.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that 'everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work'. This is the umbrella under which New Zealand passed our own human rights legislation. The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibited discrimination in employment on grounds of sex (and other grounds) in general terms, and provided a process for complaints by individuals. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 relates specifically to actions by government and its agencies and includes the right of freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex.
In 1978 New Zealand ratified two other Conventions to prevent discrimination against women. The Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966) provides equality before the law, equal protection of the law and 'protection against discrimination on any ground such as...sex.' This ratification led to New Zealand passing its Bill of Rights Act. The Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) requires just and favourable conditions of work, and 'fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work."
In 1985 New Zealand ratified the Convention
on the Elimination of (All Forms of) Discrimination
Non-compliance with UN Conventions
Ratification of Human Rights, ILO and CEDAW Conventions involves periodic reporting by member governments to a UN Committee of Experts for each Convention. The process includes the opportunity for non-government organisations, such as the NZCTU and the National Council of Women, to make alternate submissions. The Committee may request further information, express concerns or make recommendations for further action by the government. These reports receive little attention from the media.
The changes in legislation and policy described in History & Politics mean New Zealand has come under continual and longstanding criticism from these UN Committees for lack of effective action on equal pay for work of equal value.
In 2008, 2010 and 2012, the ILO Committee asked the government to provide information on any judicial decisions related to the principles of the Convention or indication that legislation is being interpreted to apply the concept of work of equal value, and queried the lack of discrimination complaints.
New Zealand's 2009 Universal Period Review report to the UN on human rights included just one paragraph on employment equity. This described slow progress on pay reviews in the public service and - at the insistence of ngos - mentioned the government decision to drop two pay equity investigations about to be undertaken. The UN Working Group recommended 'policies to achieve full gender parity' and the government blandly agreed to do so through 'a number of government programmes'.
In 2010 the CEDAW Committee of Experts identified 'pay inequality and pay equity' as a principal area of concern and asked New Zealand to focus on this and report on actions taken by 2014. In 2012 it again raised concerns about lack of pay equity, insufficient protection in the law against direct and indirect discrimination regarding equal pay for work of equal value, and lack of consistent policy for bridging the persistent wage gaps betwen women and men.
Recent government reports cite the Equal Pay Acts and lack of court cases (as well as various policies and activities) as evidence of New Zealand's compliance with the Conventions. At home, however, Ministers and department officials have often expressed doubt that the 1972 Act can support equal value cases, in view of the 1986 decision that the court had no jurisdiction to decide if the parties could not. This question of law has been raised in Bartlett & SFWU vs Terranova.
Finding New Zealand compliance reports
Government reports are prepared by the Ministries of Business Innovation and Employment (ILO 100 and 111) and Women's Affairs (CEDAW) and Justice (Human Rights) and can be found on the websites of these departments - most easily by using their website search tool. 'Concluding Observations ' from the committee may also be on these websites or may be included in New Zealand's reports when replying to questions.
Responsibility for reporting on compliance with UN Conventions on employment rights and women's rights has recently moved to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The ILO and the new organisation UN Women now play a more general role on these issues. New Zealand's most recent reports are the OHCHR website under Country Reports, select New Zealand. The CEDAW Committee's 1996 and 1993 Concluding Observations on New Zealand on the CEDAW website are still available.
Alternate reports are prepared by the NZCTU, the National Council of Women and by women's and human rights groups such as Peace Movement Aotearoa and the Auckland Women' s Centre.
Here are links to the most recent reports:
ILO 100 and 111
New Zealand's reports on the Equal Remuneration Convention 1951 and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention include questions from the ILO Committee and responses. Scroll down for the 2008 reports.
Ministry of Women's Affairs (2010) The Status of Women in New Zealand, NZ government report to CEDAW, 2010. Past New Zealand reports including questions from the CEDAW Committee are also on MWA's website under Publications.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2012) Concluding observations: New Zealand. 52nd Session, 9-27 July 2012
National Council of Women (2012) Women Experiencing Discrimination. NGO report on New Zealand's compliance with CEDAW. See also reports for previous years on this website.
Pacific Women's Watch (NZ) NGO Alternative Report Status of Women Comments on NZ's progress in implementing CEDAW report, September 2011.
Unversal Period Report on Human Rights
The 2009 reports with minimal mention of
employment equity for women can be found here.
The most recent reporting round focuses on policies related to violence
www.cevepnz.org.nz - 24 September 2013